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Is Current Israeli Policy Incompatible With Judaism?
August 27, 2002 12:58 AM   Subscribe

Is Current Israeli Policy Incompatible With Judaism? Jonathan Sacks, Britain's Chief Rabbi and arguably the outstanding Jewish intellectual of his generation, has apparently broken away from the established stance of Orthodox Judaism and made public a series of worries and reservations that rabbis have been making privately ever since Sharon took power. It's not so much politics (though everything is) that is at stake but the dissonance between the highly peaceful (indeed anti-military) and human character of Judaism and the hard, secular realism of present-day Israeli politics. Are they becoming irreconcilable? Were they always so?[Jonathan Freedland, who interviewed Professor Sacks, had this to say about the bigger picture.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (103 comments total)

 
P.S. I can't get hold of any of the chapters of Sacks's new book The Dignity of Difference, which The Guardian is serializing this week, but here, from The Washington Times, is a lecture of his, delivered last month, which addresses some of his concerns in that book.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:34 AM on August 27, 2002


Originally, Israeli politics were by definition secular, though perhaps more idealist than realist. The original Israelis, you will recall, were the people who built socialist kibbutzim and founded a secular state, opposed by the religious who felt Zionism was a heretical movement. The important part of Zionism originally was gaining a national home for the Jewish people, not fulfilling a religious and historical imperative. Herzl advocated a state "with equal rights for Arabs and women".

The religious largely support Israel now, but they want it to become a theocracy where the Temple can be rebuilt. So we have an alliance between the holy and the unholy. The bizarre thing is the radical, even revolutionary character of the settlers in Hebron, which echoes their secular predecessors even while they despise the pluralism and tolerance that the original secular worldview promoted. The Haredi are gung-ho.

There is no such thing as "the secular realism of Israeli politics" in my mind - some of the most uncompromising Zionists these days are religious.

Sacks articulates what I have felt for a long time. I've heard my Orthodox sister and her yeshiva-student husband spout the most appalling, irrational nonsense about "The Arabs" at the same time that they will lecture me on charity, devotion and holiness, and the hypocrisy stinks. Eg, they were distressed that Arab workmen would relieve themselves on the ground destined to be the floor of their new house's kitchen - an act of symbolic defilement - but could not see that the construction site had no toilet, and did not understand in the slightest why anyone would want to do that to them. Repeating how The Arabs Hate Us, while pointing out at a wedding reception Shaul, famous for the number of Arabs he had despatched.

Everything valuable about Judaism in my mind, from kindness to strangers to charity to faith in an unknowable God is being thoroughly perverted by tribal idiots. If we truly believe in Judaism's virtues, why don't we actually practise them? (Saying Arabs are a metaphorical Amalek doesn't count). Good on Sacks. Hell, I might even go to shul on Saturday in his honour.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:42 AM on August 27, 2002


When a guy begins to refer to himself as some sort of biblical prophet you can count me out as a listener.
posted by Postroad at 3:22 AM on August 27, 2002


It's not clear whether the reference is his own, or the reporter's. Even if it is his own, I took it as metaphorical rather literal.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:26 AM on August 27, 2002


Of course Judaism is a religion of peace.

Just like Islam.

---

Or maybe these religions are not really all that peaceful to strangers. Yes the "Old Testiment" says we should be kind to strangers and stuff, but it also goes on and on about the military exploits of the Hebrews against the Philistines -- the people for whom 'palistine' is named -- and many others.

Islam is just an attempted modernization of Christianity and Judaism anyway. The three religions have both pacifist and violent characteristics.
posted by delmoi at 3:57 AM on August 27, 2002


When a guy begins to refer to himself as some sort of biblical prophet you can count me out as a listener.

I take it you're not a christian then?
posted by delmoi at 3:59 AM on August 27, 2002


An extract from The Dignity of Difference
posted by chill at 5:06 AM on August 27, 2002


op/ed ...just sayin'.
posted by crunchland at 5:23 AM on August 27, 2002


"The American Council For Judaism is a national organization founded over 50 years ago dedicated to the advancement of Judaism as a religion of universal and prophetic values, consonant with the ideals of a democratic society. The Council affirms that no individual or group can speak for all Jews, and rejects any effort to impose Jewish nationality upon all Jewry."
posted by sheauga at 5:25 AM on August 27, 2002


Thanks sheauga, I was looking for something like that...and I was also reminded of the concept of the court jew. He sounds like a good guy, but most jews bristle at the thought of just one spokesman for us...we don't have any central authority figures to speak for us....and we like it that way...

Everything that the rabbi's saying is bread and butter for the vast majority of jews in the world, whether practised in reality or not....we learn from the start that it's a big world and we're just a very small part of it, and that we have to do good, etc...I'm wondering at the value he has for christians (especially in Britain)--do they listen to him, or do they trot him out for inter-faith events or when they need to seem to be multicultural and caring...?
posted by amberglow at 5:48 AM on August 27, 2002


Judaism is similar to every other 'ism' (or 'am' or 'ity') in that it provides a context within which the peaceful seek peace and the warlike seek war. To try and characterize any religion - which is dependent on ancient and disputed texts and a complex exegetical tradition - as one thing to all its members usually doesn't work. I think most people find in these texts and traditions the elements that resonate most strongly with them and find ways around the parts that don't make sense. For fundamentalists (in this case the haredim) this isn't always true, but generally these people are marginal elements. Sadly, right now the haredim are becoming more, not less, central.
posted by fluffy1984 at 5:57 AM on August 27, 2002


Originally, Israeli politics were by definition secular, though perhaps more idealist than realist.

Israel is still a secular democracy. The United States was founded upon idealism too. Noam Chomsky is also an M.I.T. communist jew who hates America and bootlicks Palestinians. Do I listen to his hateful, irrational polemics? Yes.

Do I see them as the leftist, foolhardy, disappointing propaganda that they are, without one ounce of realistic redeeming value? Yes.

Do I believe in Israel's right to exist and defend itself? Do you need to ask?
posted by hama7 at 5:58 AM on August 27, 2002


It was a lovely link to an interesting article about a man who appears to be both intelligent and good, arguing from a fundamentallist (i.e., based on strongly supported reading of a sacred text) perspective that we need to respect each other. It's an opinion we should hear more of: that strong faith and conviction are not incompatible with openness and tolerance. This is an obvious truth that appears to be forgetten by both religious and secular people far too often.

I liked the link Miguel. I'm sorry the thread seems to be going to the bad place.
posted by fluffy1984 at 6:21 AM on August 27, 2002


Unforuntate but true. While I found the link's content to be thoughtful, this is MetaFilter after all (although just when you thought the level of I/P discourse around here couldn't get any lower - surprise! - something crawls up out of the slime to shake you out of your complacency...)
posted by JollyWanker at 6:49 AM on August 27, 2002


Noam Chomsky is also an M.I.T. communist jew
Is there any other kind?
posted by octavius at 7:08 AM on August 27, 2002


Is there any other kind?

Yes there is smarty.

Rational people of all denominations recognize Chomsky's diahorreic flow of hatred as exactly what it is: leftist nonsense.
posted by hama7 at 7:19 AM on August 27, 2002


What on earth does Chomsky have to do with Miguel's link? Why are we talking about him?

Can we stop?

Please?
posted by fluffy1984 at 7:25 AM on August 27, 2002


Hama7, please don't do this.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:27 AM on August 27, 2002


Hama7: Chomsky wasn't mentioned in this thread 'till you brought him up. You're just trying to stir up trouble, aren't you?
posted by saltykmurks at 7:31 AM on August 27, 2002


(Looks like I was a little slow on the draw there.)
posted by saltykmurks at 7:31 AM on August 27, 2002


leftist nonsense
is there any other kind?

Sorry. I'll stop.
posted by octavius at 7:32 AM on August 27, 2002


I retract all previous comments. Please carry on with your thread about Jewish leftists who support Palestine.

Just act like I'm not here.
posted by hama7 at 7:41 AM on August 27, 2002


Please carry on with your thread about Jewish leftists who support Palestine.

Such as the Chief Rabbi, "now regard[ed] as Israel's best defender in Britain"? Please, spare us.
posted by riviera at 7:47 AM on August 27, 2002


Just act like I'm not here.
Metafilter has fallen to the communist jews. Will MetaTalk be next? Stay tuned.
posted by octavius at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2002


hama -

If you don't read the link, why bother posting?

If you don't read people's comments, why pretend that what you're involved in is a conversation?

If you have no interest in anything but your own personal soapbox and your own chosen strawmen, why don't you just sit around the house and talk to yourself?
posted by fluffy1984 at 7:56 AM on August 27, 2002


I read it, obviously. It's about a very nice man who hates global capitalism and supports Palestine. Did I miss anything?

When this happened:

"But aren't there some differences too wide to bridge? Could Sacks "hear the voice of God" from the mouth of a Muslim extremist who approved of terrorist violence? Could he even bring himself to meet such a man?"

"Yes."

I saw a clueless cleric for exactly what he is: an indecisive pimple on the derriere of morality.
posted by hama7 at 8:08 AM on August 27, 2002


An "indecisive pimple"?
posted by saltykmurks at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2002


Seriously, though, I don't see how you get from "British cleric wouldn't mind speaking to his enemies" to "Noam Chomsky is a jerk."
posted by saltykmurks at 8:23 AM on August 27, 2002


With reservations about throwing fresh meat to the sharks, I submit:
Miguel - I enjoyed the link. Coming from a very mixed religious family makes me appreciate Rabbi Sacks a lot. It's easy to forget that the foremost obligation in religion is care of the soul. And there is dignity in the different ways we approach that. As a practicing muslim, I am most admiring of the way some in my family have chosen to practice Orthodox Hasidic Judaism. It is not an easy path to follow, and they carry it with dignity.

context within which the peaceful seek peace and the warlike seek war
Fluffy, well said. What is important about Sacks is that sincere fundamentalists are committed to the Text first and foremost. So an argument for peace strongly rooted in the Text can persuade those who respect the Text. Those with more tribal or secular leanings can ignore what doesn't support the war they are seeking. Cleric pimples and such.
posted by BinGregory at 8:31 AM on August 27, 2002


good topic miguel, to bad the few who are trying to address the issue are drowned in,,,,, All i can add is that maybe Sharon needs to retire...but what, bennies gonna get the helm? and i don't think the right will allow another left-center into office at this point. a very difficult question with few answers.

Are they becoming irreconcilable? Were they always so? other good question, from what little i have gleaned, No, not in the tradional sense (of opposing political parties) to much common cause. Though when rabin was killed, my Israeli friend just shrugged, she was likkud (sic sp) i do remember feeling a bit uneasy at the lack of concern. But it did not seem to phase her.
posted by clavdivs at 8:58 AM on August 27, 2002


related: rabbis for human rights
posted by judith at 9:06 AM on August 27, 2002


1. I do hope nobody is trying to argue that Sacks, of all people, is a leftist. He's usually considered quite far to the right.

2. The Chief Rabbinate is a system unique to the Anglo-Jewish community, deriving from, among other things, the community's small size and the sheer paucity of rabbis with authorized training. (At one point in the nineteenth century, the Chief Rabbi was the only rabbi in the entire country.) For more information, see here.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:15 AM on August 27, 2002


Sharon's tactics from any perspective simply are not working, and have never worked. The man is a failure both morally and strategically-- the only people who have 'benefitted' from his policies are the extreme end of the Settler movement, who are reviled by most of the country.

Sharon is a perfect example of how ultra-nationalism can attract a following during times of extreme stress and pain, but can never adaquately solve the problems he is called on to fix. Instead he only creates more pain, anger, and frustration, which leads to short-term popularity and support. It is a classic case that has been repeated in many nations and throughout history. The one comfort is that it is never successful in the long term.
posted by cell divide at 9:21 AM on August 27, 2002


BinGregory: I wish your family were in charge of world affairs!

Thomas j wise: Exactly. It's the fact that Sacks is such a respected, conservative figure of the Orthodox Jewish community that makes this interview so important. The interview has been given pride of place in the Israeli front pages. There's bound to be a big fall-out. Let's hope something comes out of the discussion - perhaps an inter-faith conference with political clout. Here's the recent headline from the (conservative) Jerusalem Post:

British chief rabbi: Israeli policies 'incompatible' with Judaism
By THE JERUSALEM POST INTERNET STAFF
In a scathing attack on Israeli policies, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks also calls on the Jewish state to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for peace.

Judith: thanks for the link; RHR sound very impressive. Are they influential?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:32 AM on August 27, 2002


Maybe we should divide into groups discussing law, religion, religious dogma, utopian ideologies, and realpolitics and just post the conclusions of each group?
posted by semmi at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2002


I think Sacks is to be praised, especially, for agreeing to meet the Iranian cleric. It suggests that if the top echelons of the Shi'a clergy could grasp the nettle and get the fuck out of Iranian politics (and the politics of the rest of the Middle East), they might actually be in a position to challenge the spread of Wahabbism by relying on the religious authority that swept them to power in the first place, rather than having both thrown away by the growing demand for reform across Iran.
posted by riviera at 9:42 AM on August 27, 2002


Riviera - Yes, Rabbi Sacks' meeting with Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli is remarkable. But, in or out of Iranian politics, theologically, the Shi'i ulema aren't in a position to check wahhabism. Wahhabism is a corruption spreading through Sunni Islam. There just isn't enough dialogue between Sunnis and Shi'is to make that happen.

Semmi - OK, but can we leave off the realpolitics?
posted by BinGregory at 10:01 AM on August 27, 2002


can we leave off the realpolitics?

My feeling here in Lisbon, belonging to a very small Jewish (Orthodox; Sephardi) community, is that religious understanding between Jews and Muslims (more than mere dialogue) has always existed in a significant way and that it was interrupted or weakened by the recent foundation of Israel. Even then, old habits die hard with scholars and men of deep faith, thank G-d, and the leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities, Sheik Munir and Rabbi Vaknin, often visit each other at their Mosque and Synagogue. Last year they appeared on the cover of a popular monthly magazine, talking about issues of faith. They certainly have a lot to agree about.

Perhaps a faith-led initiative, drawing as it does on centuries of understanding (much more difficult with Christians, due to all the persecutions), would have a better chance than simply political efforts. That's why I applaud Rabbi Sacks's outspokenness - he's merely articulating publicly what other Orthodox rabbis have been saying privately for some time now.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:21 AM on August 27, 2002


Do I believe in Israel's right to exist and defend itself? Do you need to ask? --hama7

Well, with a name like "Hamasheaven", I think there might have been some room for interpretation, no?

MiguelCardoso, interesting find...thanks. Sorry the discussion got hijacked as fast as it did...it seems that the days of rational and reasonable discussion may be behind us.

I don't see Rabbi Sacks as a leftist in any sense of the word, and I do find his interpretations interesting. I found this quote particularly touching...as I think it probably speaks to the entire Israel vs Arabs conflict:

"I was convinced that Israel had to give back all the land for the sake of peace. My father, bless him, was convinced that Israel's neighbors would never make peace. Thirty five years later, I think we were both right."

Which says to me...there is no definitive answer...so sad...and so cyclical.
posted by dejah420 at 10:44 AM on August 27, 2002


Perhaps a faith-led initiative, drawing as it does on centuries of understanding (much more difficult with Christians, due to all the persecutions), would have a better chance than simply political efforts.

what's that saying about rendering unto Caesar?

Injecting more faith into already religiously-charged political disputes doesn't have a chance in hell of succeeding...and might make things worse, or god forbid, turn these conflicts into real holy wars.
posted by amberglow at 11:00 AM on August 27, 2002


Injecting more faith into already religiously-charged political disputes doesn't have a chance in hell of succeeding...and might make things worse, or god forbid, turn these conflicts into real holy wars.

As opposed to what? The calm, collected, rational wars they are now? These "disputes" can use all of the help they can get, including but not limited to the real life demonstration that Jews and Muslims need not necessarily begin their dialogue by dive bombing a house full of civilians or strapping a bomb onto oneself and detonating it on a rush hour bus...
posted by JollyWanker at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2002


OK, jolly, first of all, you're exaggerating because that's not what immediately happens....and we've already seen both sides ignore voices of reason (their own and the other side's) that are and aren't faith-based, so you think a rabbi and an imam should walk into Jerusalem...and what? handcuff themselves to a city bus so a suicide bomber can't get on? set themselves on fire? have a sit-in? call for god to smite everyone?
c'mon....there is optimistic, and then there's naive...

And on the topic, should religious leaders get more involved in the U.S. government and its policies? the Russian? Chinese? Because it's Israel, people expect different things--and people have to get over that way of thinking quick. Israel is a country, doing what it thinks it has to for survival--you can agree or disagree, but I think injecting more non-rational voices on either side or both sides would be a horrendous mistake.
posted by amberglow at 1:58 PM on August 27, 2002


Actually it sounds like a bad joke: "So there's this rabbi and imam and they walk into Jerusalem, see...."
posted by amberglow at 2:13 PM on August 27, 2002


can we leave off the realpolitics?

I think it is the crux of the matter what parts of reality is left off from consideration and accomodation, if any.
posted by semmi at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2002


Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the orthodox jews (Hassidim?) who have been against the establishment of Israel from the very beginning based on some religious consideration?
posted by semmi at 2:33 PM on August 27, 2002


Semmi -

A very very small subset of orthodox jews are currently anti-Israel. The vast majority are very pro-Israel, and it's these folk who form the backbone of the settler/greater Israel movement; however, before the establishment of Israel, many and possibly most religious Jews were anti-Zionist. Intervening events convinced many that Zionism was a good idea.
posted by fluffy1984 at 2:49 PM on August 27, 2002


OK, Amber, just keep telling yourself over and over: "There's a way to keep religion out of this! There's a way to keep religion out of this!" And if you click your heels three times while you're saying it, I'll bet you end up back in black and white in your Kansas bed...

No avenue of possible intervention should be short circuited at this point. Treating Israel and the Palestinians like "countries" separate from their religious passions hasn't solved this situation up this point; I can't imagine what evidence you have that treating them as anything other than religiously driven is going to resolve all of "this." You can't just will away all that anger and frustration and pain, no matter how messy and complicated it makes the situation for you.
posted by JollyWanker at 2:53 PM on August 27, 2002


JW: Palestinian terrorism is still primarily secular with a political aim.
posted by semmi at 3:24 PM on August 27, 2002


Following up Fluffy, Jews Against Zionism is one such organization, under the Satmer line of Hasidism. They argue from Torah that since God took away the Holy Land, only God can restore it. Interestingly, this is the same argument that Muslims are making against revolutionary jihadists like Khilafah.com who want to re-establish the Caliphate.
posted by BinGregory at 3:42 PM on August 27, 2002


Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports that organizations affiliated with Likud are already calling for Sacks's resignation...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:09 PM on August 27, 2002


Jolly, here's a little secret...if Israel was a christian nation, the palestinians still would be doing what they're doing to try to get what they see as their land back...

I can't believe you think this is all about religion...I see it much more as a land thing, with religion as the dessert.
posted by amberglow at 5:11 PM on August 27, 2002


My country, right or wrong.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:15 PM on August 27, 2002


...if Israel was a christian nation...
Of course, there are plenty of Palestinian Christians, so we're just talking about the Muslims in that hypothetical? I don't quite get the argument but I thought this was relevant:
For 1000 Years, Muslims Hold Key to Christianity's Holiest Shrine

I mean, yes, Amberglow, people are mainly fighting over land and power, but as fluffy said, religion is a context within which the peaceful seek peace and the warlike seek war. So how could it not be helpful to use this powerful commonality of faith to seek peace?
posted by BinGregory at 5:34 PM on August 27, 2002


bin, I was talking about the fact that israel is a jewish nation, not muslim, but you have a good point--if it was a kurdish nation, I don't think anything would be different--if it was a sunni nation, etc....

So how could it not be helpful to use this powerful commonality of faith to seek peace?
Because the people in power on both sides don't give a shit what the religious powers that be say, unless they can get something out of it (elected, funding for the martyrs, arms, foreign aid, etc)...
Do people think that there isn't peace because religious leaders haven't been meeting? (they have, for decades) I think people put way too much stock in religious leaders and their powers...
posted by amberglow at 5:44 PM on August 27, 2002


Amber, maybe you better do a little reading about why Israel is there in the first place, instead of Palestine. Then get back to us with your whole "Religion has absolutely nothing to do with this" schtick, OK? I for one will continue to contend that anyone who would throw away the remotest possibility of breaking this hideous stalemate - whether it's presented by religious persons or not - because they personally think the conflict is only a rational, geopolitical disturbance is deluded and counter-productive.
posted by JollyWanker at 5:52 PM on August 27, 2002


Jolly, darling, thanks for the insults and the words put in my mouth...I'm waiting for a response to my specific statements...

When the people in power on both sides care about what religious figures might think (and not care only for the reasons I outlined above), and genuinely desire peace, I'll see a ray of hope...until then, it's not me being delusional.
posted by amberglow at 5:59 PM on August 27, 2002


Amberglow - my own experience when talking to Muslim friends (in England, Portugal and Mozambique) is that Islam, being by far the most modern of the Abrahamic/monotheistic faiths, is also the most inclusive, in that it doesn't exist in opposition to Judaism or Christianity but as an extension of both, as revealed by the Prophet Mohammed.

Islam actually embraces that communality within itself. The problem is that, being inclusive and being able to pride itself on its historical tolerance, it is of itself proselytising, as is Christianity. Judaism is not and Jews live in terror of being persecuted and/or forcibly converted.

The differences are far smaller than the similarities though. For all the talk of a Judeo-Christian tradition, the fact is that Judaism and Islam are much closer, in believing in one G-d and rejecting all humanisations of G-d.

This is why, theoretically at least, a religious understanding is easier than a political one. In any case, as Jonathan Sacks argues, things have got so bad that we have to ask ourselves, instead of being cynical, what we have to lose.

We Jews are - what? - fifteen million in the whole world. Refusing to engage with the rest of the world has been a strength historically but it could turn out to be a weakness in today's world.

Not that I'm sure of anything, mind you...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:01 PM on August 27, 2002


I have to say, as a mental exercise which will yield fruitful results: first forget the last 50 or so years, since the foundation of Israel, if you want to think about religious communalities and then add them on. It's much less difficult than the other way round.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:05 PM on August 27, 2002


thanks Miguel, you always express yourself beautifully, and I envy you.

This is why, theoretically at least, a religious understanding is easier than a political one.
I wish we lived in a theoretical world, but unfortunately we have to make do with reality. There is a real situation (i'm putting it mildly) in Israel today with real solutions possible. Whether that involves giving land back or not, compromising in one form or another, or killing everyone on the other side or not, or exiling one side or the other is not up to me. It's up to the people in the area, and to think that a rabbi in london (or ny or lisbon, etc) will have an impact is foolishness, I find.

Refusing to engage with the rest of the world has been a strength historically but it could turn out to be a weakness in today's world.
That struck me Miguel, because I was brought up to believe that we have an obligation to engage with the rest of the world, but at a local and national level, and in a practical way...I also was taught that the refusal to engage was unnaturally imposed on us by others, whether through the ghettos of europe, or in eastern european shetls, through governmental restrictions and edicts, etc. I have rarely (if at all) met another jew who wasn't curious, concerned and/or engaged with local, national, and world events. Look, here we are talking about them! : >
Please clarify for me...
posted by amberglow at 6:19 PM on August 27, 2002


maybe people are looking for a jewish or israeli gandhi?

It would be wonderful to break the cycle of violence and I think people everywhere would rejoice, but I think it can only come from people on the ground and living in the situation.
posted by amberglow at 6:28 PM on August 27, 2002


I also was taught that the refusal to engage was unnaturally imposed on us by others

It probably worked both ways, amberglow. Orthodox resistence to assimilation was strengthened, perversely, by the constant drive by the political powers to isolate us.

In this come-and-go, this ebbing and filling of the tide, between Jewish curiosity and worldliness and the Jewish desire to survive as a religious community, one could probably place all our tragic history. Forgive me if I'm dramatic, but it's like a constant story of never being able to get it right, because others resented our approaches as much as they did our retreats.

In the end, though, your stark appraisal - There is a real situation (i'm putting it mildly) in Israel today with real solutions possible - is probably the most sensible. But Amberglow - ask yourself, though, whether a parallel religious communality wouldn't help. The present promiscuity between religious and political powers (as expressed, for instance, in the Israeli parliamentary system) seems to be the worst of both worlds, with none of the advantages.

It's always good to keep in mind that we've always been and will always be a small minority, strangers in this world, however well received we might be... And that our responsibility towards strangers (even if they are 99,9% of the world) is all the more stronger for it...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:41 PM on August 27, 2002


I am all for peace in the middle east, and I think that Israel should give up the West Bank and perhaps Gaza. I'm all for better cross-cultural understanding.

But I have to say that this guy's line of argument seems pretty flawed. If you're going to extoll Israel on the issue of peace, you can't use a literal interpretation of the Torah to back it up. From the article:

Sacks looked at the first 12 chapters of Genesis, before Isaac and Ishmael part: the symbolic moment when Judaism and Islam begin their separate journeys. "The key narrative is the Tower of Babel," Sacks explains. "God splits up humanity into a multiplicity of cultures and a diversity of languages." God's message to Abraham is: "Be different, so as to teach humanity the dignity of difference."

Let's take a look at a passage from the Babel story, shall we?

Genesis 11:6-7: And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from the, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confoudn their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Now, I don't think this really happened. So if someone wants to re-interpret the story to mean that God wanted to teach people "pride through diversity," and offer the whole thing as a constructed fable, that's fine. But Sacks is arguing that the text literally supports his views, and it doesn't. Taken literally (and also taken the way it's been interpreted for thousands of years), the Babel story is about God purposely making communication between different peoples difficult, not so they can accomplish something together, but so that they fail to accomplish something together.

Also, it's a good thing Sacks is stopping at Genesis 12, right after God has wiped out the world with a flood, and has just contacted Abraham for the first time, and everything is shiny and new. And, more importantly, it leaves out the text that is the basis of the Zionist platform to begin with, wherein God designates a certain stretch of land to be Israel (with landmarks that still exist, and encompassing an area much bigger than modern Israel), home of the "chosen people." Canaan, which already has people living in it, is bequeathed to Abraham and his descendants as an "everlasting posession."

I want peace in the middle east, and I am critical of Israel. But arguing that the text of the Torah is to be taken at face value is not going to solve anything. The religion that the text actually advocates is not peaceful.
posted by bingo at 7:10 PM on August 27, 2002


I think you're right about that, but I would say complementary instead of parallel, Miguel--but i think that maybe it's related to a hierarchy of needs or something...you can't engage someone in an intellectual or theoretical discussion when they're in the middle of a battle.

The present promiscuity between religious and political powers... I think promiscuity is the perfect word (and it applies to both sides), Miguel, and that's what I've been trying to say earlier...

Both israelis and palestinians are intelligent, strong-minded, and when it comes down to it, practical people (i could say that of everyone on earth, almost!). I have faith in their ability to both practically and theoretically work things out in time.

I don't ever fear for the survival of jews and judaism (i know we can and will survive everything)--and it seems obvious to me that the practicalities of political and governmental operations in the running of a nation of course run counter to traditional jewish beliefs, but i'm not an israeli. (I have enough trouble with my own government's policies and practices.) All nations act brutally when the powers that be feel it's necessary, and war-like too. I truly wonder whether diaspora judaism (with all its portability and adaptability to circumstances) is the right framework to deal with israel's problems.
posted by amberglow at 7:24 PM on August 27, 2002


maybe people are looking for a jewish or israeli gandhi?

Well, amberglow, Yitzhak Rabin fit the bill to the point of being assassinated by an extremist of his own religion.

(You're right, though, bingo, that Sacks' reading of the 'gift' of diversity doesn't quite fit with Joshua and the troops rolling into the Promised Land.)

But Miguel seems to get to the heart of things when he talks about the unhealthy cross-breeding of religious and political authority. It was that, for instance, which brought the shift from the world of al-Andalus to that of Columbus and the conquistadors, propped up the Papal states, etc ad infinitum.
posted by riviera at 7:30 PM on August 27, 2002


Bingo, within the usual conventions of rabbinical Judaism, Sacks is doing a perfectly normal thing. "Discovering" new meanings in G-d's word is a continual process. Rabbinical exegisis relies on the axiom that there is more to the text than the literal meaning. Otherwise you couldn't get "don't eat cheeseburgers" from "do not seethe the kid in its mother's milk", or "don't flick the lightswitch on Shabbos" from "keep the Sabbath holy".

Literal readings in Judaism really only happen if you're a Karaite, and the rabbis would say they aren't "really" Jews.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:40 PM on August 27, 2002


And riviera, yup, got to agree on the Joshua front. But I'd rather Sack's reading than saying the Palestinians are Amalek.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2002


spleen, thanks for the link! (and bingo and riviera too!)

(but no hanukkah!?! feh!) : p
posted by amberglow at 7:48 PM on August 27, 2002


and definitely no hanukkah from now on for that Lewin guy...I can't believe he's seriously advocating that!
posted by amberglow at 7:54 PM on August 27, 2002


Bingo, that's how the Tower of Babel was phrased to me too as a kid, as a punishment for arrogance bordering on polytheism. But I'm willing to give Rabbi Sacks the benefit of the doubt; that's what he went to Yeshiva for. Religious Texts, even when accepted as revealed and unchanging, are still not necessarily to be taken at face value, and their meaning is not always the literal one. Perhaps there is exegesis of this verse that we're not aware of? The Prophet Muhammad said each verse of the Quran has seven meanings, the first being the one immediately percieved, the seventh known only to God.

oops - on preview, Joe's spleen beat me to it.
posted by BinGregory at 8:02 PM on August 27, 2002


Way to deal with trolls! Go, TeamMeFi! This thread was snatched from the jaws of defeat by community action - several disapproving, censorious posts and a plea for restraint: I like very much.

I don't say this often, but... nice topic, Miggy! (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 9:33 PM on August 27, 2002


I have been quite horrified by the predictably inane leftist rantings on this board. I was even more horrified to hear that the Chief Rabbi of the UK, Jonathan Sacks has decided to take up the anti-Israel cause along with the rest of the anti-Semites in the UK. I am sure that his new anti-Jewish views will make him the toast of the town in London, but while he is going to cocktail parties rubbing elbows with the class of Jew hating high society, Israeli children will continue to be murdered in their homes and schools. It seems that he is already making new friends. G-d have mercy on him when the UK Nazis come to round him up.
posted by tkcteecfrs at 10:14 PM on August 27, 2002


How is asking for a little soulsearching anti-Israel? I should think a rabbi is right to be concerned when Jews take pleasure in killing. What is wrong with holding the door open to talk with anyone, even the worst of people, if they are willing to talk?

Which of his views, precisely, are anti-Jewish? Please name one, taken from the article.

Sweeping aside a bunch of comments under the rubric "predictably inane leftist rantings", without directly adressing a single point raised, is, er, inane ranting, in fact. You are far to quick to assimilate greys into black and white. Making extreme rhetorical statements while avoiding actual argument scores you zero points on the spleen-o-meter.

Jeez, at least hama7 and Postroad read the damn thing.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:27 AM on August 28, 2002


i_am_joe's_spleen

I was unaware that you leftists are interested in facts, so I did not bother to address them. Since you ask, I will address the learned Rabbi's comments. As far as reading "the damn thing," it was reported in Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, Arutz Sheva, IsraelInsider etc. etc. etc. so it would have been rather difficult to miss. While you may not agree with my position is certainly not particularly unique as Haaretz is reporting the following:
The Likud-Herut headquarters in Britain accused Sacks of being "used by people who, at best, cannot be described as friends of Israel." The political party branch accused Sacks of encouraging Israel's enemies, charging him with "moral blindness."

Betar-Tagar, the youth movement affiliated with Herut and the Likud, called for Sacks' resignation, claiming he added "fuel to the burning fire of the conflict. When anti-Semitism in Britain and the world is rising, we do not expect our chief rabbi to support the enemies of Israel and their propaganda."

Rabbi Sholom Gold, dean of the Jerusalem College for Adults, told BBC Radio: "We who are living here day in and day out, our perspective is the one that really counts." The Palestinian agenda was "the destruction of the State of Israel," he said.

"For this there is only one response. The only moral response that is compatible with Jewish belief is to stand up and fight and defend yourself. And every act of that sort is not immoral; on the contrary it is the height of morality."
I realize this perspective is unusual on this board as anything to the right of Shimon Perez is immediately shouted down with howls of indignation.

As to the Rabbi's so-called "ideas."
Still, when pressed, he will admit the anguish Israel's own conduct causes him. "There are things that happen on a daily basis which make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew." He was "profoundly shocked" by reports of smiling Israeli soldiers posing for a photograph with the corpse of a slain Palestinian. "There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture."

"The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And Mankind shall say, 'Truly there is a reward for the righteous. Truly there is a God Who judges on Earth.'" (Psalms 58:11-12)

Would he join those rabbis who have described the occupation as morally corrupting? He answers by telling how, in 1967, in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day war, he had a rare argument with his late father. "I was convinced that Israel had to give back all the land for the sake of peace. My father, bless him, was convinced that Israel's neighbours would never make peace. Thirty five years later, I think we were both right."

"Observe thou that which I command this day; behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Peruzite and the Hivite and the Jesubite. Take heed to thyself lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land that you come upon, lest it be a snare in your midst." Exodus (34:11- 12)
I am sure the good Rabbi in the tradition of the Court Jew is only doing what he thinks is best. No need to upset the barbarians lest they get in a Jew killing mood. What is it about Jews in the UK? When not busy condemning Israel, they are renouncing their citizenship to gain favor with the anti-Semites. G-d have mercy on us all.
posted by tkcteecfrs at 1:39 AM on August 28, 2002


I disagree, joe's spleen. Tkcteecfrs expressed what is probably the majority view in the British and Israeli Jewish community right now. There is always the (legitimate) fear that openness and overtures will be construed by the anti-Israeli lobby as a sign of weakness and used to press for further demands. This is practically a constant of politics since politics began. There is a war going on and profound disagreement as to strategy and tactics are inevitable and perhaps desirable, as long as people are still talking and at least half-listening to each other.

You could just as easily say that Sacks' apparent detour towards unorthodoxy is a calculated red herring, designed to fool the moderate Palestinians or hoodwink the media or even contribute to Arafat's isolation by appealing to a dialogue with religious leaders well to the right (or is it left?) of him.

It's such a charged atmosphere and there's so much blood flowing that the very act of trying to be reasonable can be seen as a form of abdication or even capitulation.

And he's quite right too about upper class anti-semitism in the UK. But somehow I think Rabbi Sacks is far too intelligent and faithful a man to fall for any cocktail party manouevres.

Finally, I know it's not my place to act as thread caretaker but I'd still like to thank everyone who bravely rescued this thread by pressing on, without being discouraged by attempts to turn this into a typical so-called I/P thread.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:47 AM on August 28, 2002


Oops, I see tkcteecfrs has replied while I was writing my comment. I'll read his post and reply later - I just didn't want you to think I was ignoring you. I am a conservative by the way, not a leftist, not by a long stretch...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:51 AM on August 28, 2002


joe's spleen: "Discovering" new meanings in G-d's word is a continual process. Rabbinical exegisis relies on the axiom that there is more to the text than the literal meaning. Otherwise you couldn't get "don't eat cheeseburgers" from "do not seethe the kid in its mother's milk", or "don't flick the lightswitch on Shabbos" from "keep the Sabbath holy".

There's a big difference between the two examples you're citing and Sacks' re-interpretation of the Babel story. Cheeseburgers were not around in biblical times, but the idea of not eating milk and meat together is the traditional interpretation of what that passage means to begin with. And while electricity wasn't around, the idea of not turning lights on or off on Shabatt is that turning on lights is "creating" light, and turning them off is "destroying" it, and you're not supposed to create or destroy anything on the sabbath (because neither did God in the beginning, etc.). So we're still talking about an adherence to the intent that was in the text to begin with.

Now, if Sacks really, honestly believes that the story of Babel is intended to promote pride through diversity, and that we've been misinterpreting it all along, then I'd like to hear his rationale. But yeshiva or no, the Torah is filled with incidents where God encourages the Hebrews to smite people who, by modern standards, would not deserve to be smitten. And the most relevant case in point is the people who were already living in Canaan when Moses led the escaped slaves there. Recently persecuted Jews without a homeland, rationalizing that their suffering in another context entitles them to act with violent prejudice when securing their new country. If anything, the Torah justifies Zionism; that's why it's called Zionism, after all.
posted by bingo at 2:14 AM on August 28, 2002


Thank you, tkcteecfs. I am now going to see what commentary I can find on those verses...

In the meantime, this is another piece of leftist garbage that also cites scripture. (I was Googling for stuff on whether we are to take pleasure in killing. There are tickles in the back of my mind of commentary expressing disapproval of glorying in killing, despite what the Psalmist says.)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:18 AM on August 28, 2002


I agree, bingo, that Sack's interpretation is not traditional. On the other hand, 100 years ago, most Orthodox rabbis felt on scriptural grounds that Zionism was wrong. Today, mostly on scriptural grounds, they think it's right. The text hasn't changed, but the readers have.

What annoys me here, and I'm as annoyed with myself as any poster, is that a whole bunch of things are being conflated into one issue. The religious basis of Zionism; what Judaism demands ethically of Jews; a political solution for an intractable violent conflict. It makes it impossible to have any sort of discussion when a position on one thing is taken as conclusive evidence of some other position on some other thing.

In my world it is possible to want a state if Israel to exist and live in peace, while at the same time criticising it, and criticism of Israel is not ipso facto anti-semitism.

When a prominent, hitherto conservative Orthodox rabbi says something we would not expect of him, I hope for a little more thoughtful deconstruction.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:30 AM on August 28, 2002


joe's spleen, the problem I'm having is that Sacks is not merely saying that the current situation necessitates a re-interpretation of the text, thus favoring the hard reality of the modern world over the myth. He's saying that the text is real, that it came from God, that it had a specific meaning, and that we've been missing it all along. I agree with his intentions in terms of changing the modern world, but a) I don't think he really believes that what he's saying is what the text was originally meant to convey, and I don't think a lot of literal-minded bible-readers will either, which will undercut any power behind what he's doing, b) he's still promoting a fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of the text, he's just saying that the true interpretation is not the popular one, and I think that's not a good thing, because c) the text is filled with explicit commandments and precedents for behavior that would turn the modern western world upside-down if we tried to implement them, and anyone who takes this guy seriously, and then actually reads the text to see what else we've been missing out on, is going to see that.
posted by bingo at 2:42 AM on August 28, 2002


I appreciate the link to Gush Shalom, but I am painfully familiar with their work against the Jewish people. I posted verses from scripture because the Rabbi based his arguments on them. I believe my arguments are even better supported by simple historical facts. I would have thought Jewish naivete about the "enlightenment of man" and "justice for all" would have died in the ashes at Birkenau and Belzec. The true purpose of Zionism is that never again will be Jews be slaughtered by the Christians or the Muslims or the Scientologists for that matter. I care little for the empty moralizing of the hypocritical left as they will also be seeking asylum in the same Israel they have condemned when the Europeans come marching this time. The current leaders of Europe are only one generation removed from National Socialism. How quickly we have forgotten 2000 years of history. To me, anything that undermines Israel's security is an attack on the Jewish people, the arguments of Gush Shalom, B'tselem, ACRI, Rabbi's for Human Rights et al and our friend Rabbi Sacks notwithstanding.
posted by tkcteecfrs at 3:09 AM on August 28, 2002


Just seen this on The Guardian site: Hardliners condemn Sacks over Israel stance . I don't think they're talking about tkcteecfrs.
posted by Summer at 3:26 AM on August 28, 2002


Just seen this pro-Sacks opinion piece as well.
posted by Summer at 3:33 AM on August 28, 2002


Surely disagreements spring not from differences in the degree of security desired for Israel but from differences in the means that will better lead to maximum security. I think all agree that Israel is tremendously insecure. I don't think there's an appeasement-to-permanent-war continuum or anything like that, but there are wildly different conceptions of the best ways of achieving security.

Perhaps the main difference is between emphases given to different ideas of immediate, short-term and long-term security. That is a complex minefield of potential internal conflict. In any case, the very Jewish habit of labelling Jews with very different ideas as being akin to enemies of the Jewish people is tragically divisive and counterproductive. Thank G-d, like the popular "Nazi" insult bandied about in Israeli political life, no one seems to pay much attention to it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:35 AM on August 28, 2002


In any case, the very Jewish habit of labelling Jews with very different ideas as being akin to enemies of the Jewish people is tragically divisive and counterproductive.
That is exactly what my mother, G-d bless her, is always telling me, but alas I seem to be tragically incapable of grasping it. Thus far my attempts at moderation have failed miserably, much to her dismay. I do appreciate the comment though.
posted by tkcteecfrs at 3:45 AM on August 28, 2002


Listen to your mother. She worries about you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:58 AM on August 28, 2002


After a long walk in the woods, this anti-authoritarian type comes to the unexpected conclusion that she agrees with both Mom and the Chief Rabbi. That Tower of Babel is very much an in-your-face situation for people all over the world these days, and yet some hard-line Israelis seem to think it's their role to try to stop the waves from crashing on the shore. "We must live together as brothers, or we shall die together as fools." There's more food for thought here than fits in a simple geo-political MetaFilter thread-- like the spiritual / philosophical / metaphysical underpinnings of the multiculturalist movement, the question of whether the essence of Judaism is in the heart or tied to a specific territorial entity, [real-life] Mom's constant admonishments, "Don't borrow trouble!" etc. Thanks for the post, Miguel.
posted by sheauga at 4:17 PM on August 28, 2002


I appreciate the link to Gush Shalom, but I am painfully familiar with their work against the Jewish people.

Oho, we have a live one here, fellow children of Abraham. Listen to your mother, boy. And stop throwing around insults to strangers; it's not part of our tradition.

Jews who happen to disagree with you about the best path to true safety for Israel (hint: dropping one-ton bombs on Gaza Strip neighborhoods isn't helping) are hardly doing "work against the Jewish people." If you're not interested in the kind of thoughtful debate that's characterized Jewish thought for centuries, fine. Just don't pretend you have the ultra-Jew high ground. That crap won't fly, darling.
posted by mediareport at 9:02 PM on August 28, 2002


the question of whether the essence of Judaism is in the heart or tied to a specific territorial entity...

.......or a result of being perpetually reminded by others of the singular qualities of your Jewishness with condescension, hostility and violence.
posted by semmi at 10:13 PM on August 28, 2002


semmi, what's the difference between those "singular qualities" and the "essence of Judaism" you're finding a difference with?
posted by bingo at 4:09 AM on August 29, 2002


bingo: Your “essence of Judaism” is a false notion that disregards the very real existential differences among individuals of Jewish ancestry, and is the very base of the kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric that has found its fullest expression in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and in Mein Kampf.

Comparing the substance of Jewish studies; the civic contributions of Jewish organizations; the moral, scientific and artistic contributions of Jewish individuals; the family dynamics and ambitions of Jews you’re personally acquainted with; if you, as I say, compare all these actualities with the kind of negative, condescending hostile, and violent reaction “the essence of Judaism” received throughout history, it will give you the difference between them.

What I’m saying then, is that the so-called “Jewish identity” is a creation by the generalized prejudice that has been foisted on people of Jewish ancestry, and Zionism was an attempt to change a reactive mentality to that prejudice into a pro-active one.
posted by semmi at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2002


Your ?essence of Judaism? is a false notion that disregards the very real existential differences among individuals of Jewish ancestry...

Hey now. Not sure why you're using the word "your." It wasn't me who introduced the idea into this conversation.

...and is the very base of the kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric that has found its fullest expression in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and in Mein Kampf.

It depends on whether you believe the religion is actually based on the will of God or not, or even, for that matter, on whether you believe that the religion is based on the supposed will of God or not. A bunch of different outlooks that are all calling themselves "X Judaism" have got to have something in common, or some of them should be calling themselves something else.

The covenant with Abraham in the Torah makes it perfectly clear that Jews (then Hebrews) are *supposed to be* different from everyone else. The fact that this deliberately self-imposed difference is pointed out in Mein Kampf doesn't mean that it isn't built into the fabric of the religion.

Comparing the substance of Jewish studies; the civic contributions of Jewish organizations; the moral, scientific and artistic contributions of Jewish individuals; the family dynamics and ambitions of Jews you?re personally acquainted with; if you, as I say, compare all these actualities with the kind of negative, condescending hostile, and violent reaction ?the essence of Judaism? received throughout history, it will give you the difference between them.

You gramatically lost me there. The difference between what? The difference between the multiple items you listed and each of the other items?

What I?m saying then, is that the so-called ?Jewish identity? is a creation by the generalized prejudice that has been foisted on people of Jewish ancestry...

It's funny you say this, because it seems to me that if the years of Hebrew school indoctrination I had to endure had any point, it was to foster in me a Jewish identity. In fact, that specific phrase, "Jewish identity," was uttered often by my teachers and rabbis with reverence and passion.

...and Zionism was an attempt to change a reactive mentality to that prejudice into a pro-active one.

Funny how Zionism gets its name from a biblical word for the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, and that Israel was supposedly part of that land, and that it all happened in the same conversation where God makes it clear that the Jews are to be his "chosen people."
posted by bingo at 3:36 AM on August 31, 2002


Kind of OT, since the topic has been what Rabbi Sacks believes, but your responses have made me curious, bingo: Do you believe that God feels that Jews are His "chosen people," and that God promised that land to the Jews in such a way that that promise should have bearing on today's political situation?
posted by mediareport at 10:56 PM on September 2, 2002


mediareport:

To your first question: No.

To your second question: So you don't think I'm avoiding an answer, the best short one I have is "no."

However, I find the use of "should" problematic. I don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead, yet I'd be a fool to say that nevertheless, his supposed rise isn't relevant to world politics today. The fact is that God's supposed promise to Abraham has relevance, whether or not it happened, and whether or not God exists to begin with. It's that promise that is the first connection between Jews (then Hebrews) and the piece of land known as Israel. If someone can prove that it didn't happen, or speculate on why it did, or give convincing reasons why it no longer applies, then that too would be relevant.

There were some Jews living in what is now Israel before 1948, but the vast majority of the current population either emigrated there after 1948 or is descended from people who did. The holocaust was the impetus for Jews around the world to rally for a Jewish state, but the main reason they wanted to put it in Israel, and the main reason they wanted to put Israel where it is, is because that piece of land (and, in fact, quite a bit more in the surrounding area) has been considered irrevocably tied to the religion for thousands of years, and the primary jusification for that tie is the promise from God. And it's the same part of the Torah that first mentions the "chosen people" concept, and, for that matter, circumcision. Maybe the whole conversation never took place, but whether it's real or not, and for better or worse, it continues to be relevant as long as there are influential Jews who believe that it should be.
posted by bingo at 2:22 PM on September 3, 2002


Point taken. And thanks for the thoughtful reply.
posted by mediareport at 10:26 PM on September 4, 2002


bingo: I hesitate to respond, because I want to avoid a duel of words with you.

My Jewish identity, in spite of the cheder where I spent boring times repeating mindlessly an incomprehensible language, came from being slapped at the age of 5 by a stranger because I was a stinking Jew, came from being hated and shot at and delivered into a deathcamp ghetto at the age of 9 because I was a rotten Jew, came from having lost my Father, a man of incredible gentility and sweetness because he was a fucken Jew, and even though I could have become just a simply useful everyman in this world, I've had a Jewish identity hung on me to serve as an excuse for others to hate me. At the age of 11, on the day I've learned the details of my Father's tortured death in Buchenwald, I stopped my routine evening prayers for his return and the safety of my Mother and baby sister, and decided that there cannot be a god who'd allow this to happen, and if there was one, I cursed him and dared him to take revenge on me, because as far as I was concerned, he could fuck himself (no gender equality in those days, god was, if anything, a man, period).
If you think about it, your Jewish education, the appeal for a Jewish identity by your rabbi is also a call to resist, to fight against the possibility of the kind of catastrophic inhumanity that was commited against the Jews, it is against the prejudice that is still very much alive for no appreciable reason, other than Jews too are human, and they act like other humans do. This Jewish identity comes from merely a negation of evil, it is the the other side of the evil done to them.
I tell my children where I come from without dwelling on an identity that preordains victimhood in this world. I try to raise them to be kind, self sufficient, and live with integrity because they are human among humans foremost, and coincidentally from a Jewish father.
posted by semmi at 1:55 PM on September 6, 2002


semmi, I'm sorry about the trauma you've suffered, and about your father's death. But you are nevertheless being reductive about the nature and origin of both the historical persecution of Jews and the idea of Jewish identity.


it is against the prejudice that is still very much alive for no appreciable reason, other than Jews too are human, and they act like other humans do. This Jewish identity comes from merely a negation of evil, it is the the other side of the evil done to them.

This is simply not true. Judaism is at its root an elitist, separatist religion, with a set of laws and traditions that set it apart from Christianity and other systems of belief in a number of significant ways. For an assimilated Jewish child raised in a relatively secular lifestyle, being persecuted for an aspect of oneself that is for that individual a vague, elusive, and mostly ancestral idea, it's understandable for that person to feel that the persecution is arbitrary and irrational, and therefore based in "evil."

But that isn't the case. Historically, in many cultures, including pre-WWII Germany, Jews were not like everybody else. They didn't want to be like everybody else. They weren't supposed to be; it's in the Torah, it's in the history, it's in the traditions, and it's passed down as a point of pride. The fact that choosing to be "the other" in a culture doesn't in any way mean that those making the choice deserve to be murdered, doesn't change the fact that the origins of the prejudices that led to those murders were related to that very "otherness."

We Jews do not pass down a magnet from generation to generation that draws persecution, nor is there some devil rubbing his hands together in the underworld, plotting how to put us through the wringer yet again. As long as there is a group of people who go around saying that they are more special than everyone else, those people are going to get a hard time. It's become a vicious cycle; we claim special privilege, we get persecuted, we claim special privilege because we got persecuted, etc. It's ridiculous, and it's dishonest for us to tell ourselves that this isn't what has happened, time and again. The fact that our elitism doesn't justify the crimes against us doesn't change the fact that such crimes were directed at us for reasons related to our elitism, and that in fact elitism is at the core and inception of the faith to begin with, even in our own text.
posted by bingo at 1:36 AM on September 7, 2002


"Judaism is at its root an elitist, separatist religion, with a set of laws and traditions that set it apart from Christianity and other systems of belief in a number of significant ways."

Well, both Christianity and Islam are even more elitist and separatist.

"Historically, in many cultures, including pre-WWII Germany, Jews were not like everybody else. They didn't want to be like everybody else."

Huh? Jews in pre-WWII Germany were some of the most assimilated Jews in history; Reform Judaism was born in Germany.

"The fact that our elitism doesn't justify the crimes against us doesn't change the fact that such crimes were directed at us for reasons related to our elitism, and that in fact elitism is at the core and inception of the faith to begin with, even in our own text."

Anti-Semitism on religious grounds is only one component of the hatred directed towards Jews: in the pre-modern times, it was usually a combination of hatred based on religious, economic, and social motives. In the modern times, starting in the 19th century, racial anti-Semitism has been added to the mix.

Your posts (and I remember talking with you before) reveal an almost total focus on the religious aspect of anti-Semitism. But that is only one of the many components of opposition to the Jews. In fact, the two major Jewish catastrophes of the modern period, the expulsion from Spain and the Holocaust, took place when Jews in both of those countries took very active steps to assimilate. In Spain, hundreds of thousands of Jews even converted. But that didn't stop these conversos from persecution - they were hated for their "polluted blood." Look up the concept of limpiezza di sangre.

So what exactly is your point? Jews and Judaism need to disappear, and that way the hatred and the persecution will stop?

There are hardly any Jews left in Poland or Slovakia, but they're still very much a fixture in the popular prejudices of both countries.

See, your problem is that you were born and raised in the States and you have no concept of Jewish life outside the safety of modern North America. Go to Europe, where the Holocaust took place, and you'll understand that, starting in the 19th century, no matter what the Jews did to assimilate, they were still hated. That is what semmi is driving at.

Now go read a history book.
posted by Stumpy McGee at 7:46 PM on September 7, 2002


My bad. I meant to say limpieza de sangre.
posted by Stumpy McGee at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2002


See, your problem is that you were born and raised in the States and you have no concept of Jewish life outside the safety of modern North America. Go to Europe, where the Holocaust took place, and you'll understand that, starting in the 19th century, no matter what the Jews did to assimilate, they were still hated.

I was not born in States, and I have been to Europe, including Germany, Holland, and, for that matter, to Israel as well. But please try another vindictive, misdirected personal attack and see if you come any closer to the target.

Well, both Christianity and Islam are even more elitist and separatist.

This is so obviously untrue that it gives me doubt whether we are even writing in the same language. Christianity and Islam are prostletyzing, expansive religions that seek to include as many people as possible.

Jews in pre-WWII Germany were some of the most assimilated Jews in history; Reform Judaism was born in Germany.

They weren't "assimilated" in the modern American sense of the word, nor were they "reform" in the modern American sense. See this recently linked article for a description of how one influential Zionist found his convictions through his disgust at the idea that a true Jew could also be a German patriot, long before WWII.

Your posts (and I remember talking with you before) reveal an almost total focus on the religious aspect of anti-Semitism.

Yes, I remember talking with you before too. Remember how you admitted to having gotten personal and vindictive because of your own special field of study, and to not really paying attention to anything I'd actually said?

I am not focused on any aspect of anti-semitism. I'm focused on an aspect of semitism, namely, the central idea around which it originated and revolves. That doesn't mean I'm saying that there isn't any more to Judaism than the faith. But victims of the Spanish Inquisition were killed, in the end, because they were *different*. The fact that the specific differences for which they were killed may not have actually existed (e.g. "impure blood"), doesn't change the fact that they came from a culture whose defining characteristic was that it's members are *different*. Of course everyone tried to convert in order to save their own lives. And of course it didn't work; after millenia of constructing Judaism as a religion, a culture, a philosophy, etc., the Spaniards weren't going to believe that kissing a crucifix would mean anything, and they were right.

So what exactly is your point? Jews and Judaism need to disappear, and that way the hatred and the persecution will stop?

Is that the only alternative to blaming "evil" for all our problems?
posted by bingo at 11:17 PM on September 7, 2002


I was not born in States, and I have been to Europe, including Germany, Holland, and, for that matter, to Israel as well. But please try another vindictive, misdirected personal attack and see if you come any closer to the target.

The situation in Germany and Holland is nothing compared to the atavistic anti-Semitism in the eastern part of Europe, even in places where there are hardly any Jews left, like Poland.

I wasn't being vindictive - I've encountered attitudes similar to yours from people born and raised in the Jewish communities of the American Midwest, and that's why I had assumed you were born and raised in the States.

I'm not trying to put you on the defensive or place you in a neat category or anything - just understand your position a little better.

This is so obviously untrue that it gives me doubt whether we are even writing in the same language. Christianity and Islam are prostletyzing, expansive religions that seek to include as many people as possible.

Wow! I agree - I don't think we are writing in the same language.

Allow me to re-phrase: once you become a Christian or a Muslim, those OUTSIDE your religion are either heathens or infidels who're barely human. It doesn't matter that those two religions, unlike Judaism, were able to conquer whole continents and imposed themselves on the natives - the feeling of superiority in regards to other religions in both Christianity and Islam is very strong. Of course, Judaism is very similar in defining "the Other," but it never expanded like the other two.

They weren't "assimilated" in the modern American sense of the word, nor were they "reform" in the modern American sense. See this recently linked article for a description of how one influential Zionist found his convictions through his disgust at the idea that a true Jew could also be a German patriot, long before WWII.

Although they weren't as assimilated as American Reform Jews (who happen to live in a post-modern state based on civic nationalism, as opposed to a modern European nation-state based on ethnic nationalism), they were some of the most assimilated Jews in the history of Europe.

Thanks for the link. That was a very good read.

I am not focused on any aspect of anti-semitism. I'm focused on an aspect of semitism, namely, the central idea around which it originated and revolves.

Semmi, however, was talking about anti-Semitism and how that has a real effect on Jews.

Is that the only alternative to blaming "evil" for all our problems?

No, not at all. I'm not blaming anyone or anything for all our problems. I'm just trying to see your point.

As I understand it, you posit Judaism's elitism as the main reason for the hostility, hatred, and persecution of Jews throughout the ages. Since this elitism, as you say, is at the very core of Judaism, then what would be the logical move to break the cycle of hatred and persecution, short of stopping believing in Judaism altogether? Perhaps, to remove from or alter the very idea of chosenness in Judaism? But can that be done? Isn't the Torah God-given, and thus cannot be bastardized by re-interpreting in a non-conventional fashion? That wouldn't be Judaism then, would it? It would be something else entirely, since that elitism, you say, is ultimately one of the most defining characteristics of Judaism. Consequently, Judaism as it’s known would simply disappear.

I'm sincerely interested in hearing your opinion on this matter.
posted by Stumpy McGee at 3:33 AM on September 8, 2002


Fascinating exchange, gentlemen. I've enjoyed it very much. I hate to interrupt, but regarding this:

as a Muslim, those OUTSIDE your religion are either heathens or infidels who're barely human.

This is most patently false. Christians and Jews are not referred to as Kafirs, infidels, but as Ahl al-Kitab, People of the Book. Islam accepts the legitimacy of the Judeo-Christian line of Prophets, and believes their Prophets will intercede on their behalf on the Day of Judgement, just as Muhammad will intercede for his Ummah, or nation. Also, Islam explicitly accepts the variety of races, languages and cultures as a blessing from God. The Quran (way crudely paraphrased, I can get verses if anyone is interested) tells that we were created as separate nations and tribes that we may benefit from knowing one another, and that we may compete with one another in piety, for God loves the pious. Thus, a non-muslim can be pious and God-fearing and God will love him for that, regardless of whether he has entered Islam or not.

Now, your individual muslim can be as racist, bigoted, prejudiced as the next guy, of course. But this is not supported by Islamic theology.
posted by BinGregory at 4:41 PM on September 8, 2002


In the interests of disclosure: I did spend most of my youth in and around Kansas City, though my parents were well-traveled, and made sure I was as well. And, among the midwestern Jews that I grew up around, my perspective on the religion and the culture was pretty unusual.

It doesn't matter that those two religions, unlike Judaism, were able to conquer whole continents and imposed themselves on the natives - the feeling of superiority in regards to other religions in both Christianity and Islam is very strong. Of course, Judaism is very similar in defining "the Other," but it never expanded like the other two.

Well, I think it does matter, though I find your use of "were able to" problematic; the Jews didn't try to conquer whole continents. The idea in Judaism was never to save the souls of the ignorant by converting them to your own faith. We are a minority and that has been the idea all along.

I am not focused on any aspect of anti-semitism. I'm focused on an aspect of semitism, namely, the central idea around which it originated and revolves.

Semmi, however, was talking about anti-Semitism and how that has a real effect on Jews.


Yes, and he was defining the core of Judaism as a response to an evil force otherwise unrelated to Jewish doctrine, to wit:

This Jewish identity comes from merely a negation of evil, it is the the other side of the evil done to them.

...and I think that to discuss antisemitism without discussing Judaism itself is ridiculous.

As I understand it, you posit Judaism's elitism as the main reason for the hostility, hatred, and persecution of Jews throughout the ages. Since this elitism, as you say, is at the very core of Judaism, then what would be the logical move to break the cycle of hatred and persecution, short of stopping believing in Judaism altogether? Perhaps, to remove from or alter the very idea of chosenness in Judaism? But can that be done? Isn't the Torah God-given, and thus cannot be bastardized by re-interpreting in a non-conventional fashion? That wouldn't be Judaism then, would it? It would be something else entirely, since that elitism, you say, is ultimately one of the most defining characteristics of Judaism. Consequently, Judaism as it?s known would simply disappear.

I don't really have any major disagreement with anything you say in this paragraph. I think the choice is between accepting that a religion/culture/etc. based on elitism is going to surely and consistently attract hostility, and doing so without all the whining and cries of put-uponness and head shaking at the great injustice that is the plight of the Jewish people...either that, or deciding that the core of the religion is bunk, that we've essentially been wasting our time for four thousand years, and go home. I don't seriously think that either of these things is going to happen on a large scale, and being an agnostic, I personally tend toward the latter choice, though being an elitist as well, I in some ways tend toward the former. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I do believe that being honest with oneself about how a difficult situation came about is a good thing.
posted by bingo at 6:30 PM on September 8, 2002


Bingo,

Thanks for clarifying your position. I now have a better understanding of the main theses that you were presenting earlier in this discussion.

Sincerely,

Stumpy McGee
posted by Stumpy McGee at 1:57 AM on September 9, 2002


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